Public defender Lisa Daugaard says she wasn't too worried late last year when she didn't get a check from the JEHT Foundation. The New York-based organization provided the major funding for a project Daugaard heads within The Defender Association (TDA), where she is deputy director. The checks came at irregular times after TDA submitted reports on its work with the Racial Disparity Project. But in late December, Daugaard received a letter from JEHT saying the check wasn't coming--ever. The foundation's donors had long invested their funds with Bernard Madoff, the money manager whose allegedly fraudulent operations shocked Wall Street and lost a whole lot of people a whole lot of money.
"It's devastating for us," Daugaard says. "It's even more devastating for them." Established in 2000, JEHT was one of the biggest funders in the country of groups working on criminal justice reform. It is now shutting down entirely because of the Madoff fiasco.
The TDA project it funded looks at racial disparity in the justice system. It's perhaps most well known for jumping into the city's former policy of impounding the cars of drivers with suspended licenses, a policy that its advocacy helped reverse. Charging selective enforcement by the Seattle Police Department, it is also pursuing long-running litigation that seeks to have drug charges dropped against a group of defendants. More recently, the Racial Disparity Project has championed a program that diverts drug users into social service programs rather than arresting them.
The project is losing $150,000 from its annual $270,000 budget due to JEHT's collapse. TDA accordingly reassigned one attorney who had worked on the project, and it may do the same with the two others remaining, including Daugaard, if new funding can't be found.